Whichever way you travel through Nelson it’s hard not to notice the open air handball (‘Pêl-law’) court that is situated on the high street. The listed building is the last surviving handball court in Wales and is testament to a sport that was once hugely popular. It was built for the entertainment of miners, following the miners’ strike of 1858 and has been continuously played on since its construction. Handball is played using a hard, leather-cased ball and using the palm of the hand the ball is hit against the front wall before or after it had struck the floor once. Similar to squash without the rackets, the object is to keep the ball out of the opponent’s reach but inside the bounds of the court and play continues until a competitor fails to return a ball. ‘Eton Fives’ was played at grammar schools in Wales but varied greatly from the working-class, often professional, game of handball that was played throughout Glamorgan.
Bobby Brain, Welsh Handball Champion 1982.
In the nineteenth century handball was played in the yards of pubs in front of betting spectators. At Nelson (circa 1860) Henry Roberts, the landlord of the Royal Oak, built his own bigger court to poach the lucrative handball trade away from his rival landlord at the nearby Nelson Inn. The new court proved popular and the game in Nelson flourished.
The Nelson Handball Final in 1949 with scores chalked on the front wall in traditional box tallies. Matches marked this way gave rise to the term ‘winning by a long chalk’.
Lee Davies, Welsh handball champion 1990’s and World Champion 1997.
Nelson handball doubles players in 1985.
In May 1995 the first European Handball Tournament was held at Nelson and was attended by American, Belgian, English, Irish and Welsh teams. The Eton Fives Yearbook (1994-95) commented, “admittedly the weather was excellent, but I would ask you to envisage a court situated right in the middle of a Welsh village, with a local pub literally on the left hand side of the court and a row of terraced houses on the right, and the main road and shops behind. On Finals day you could mingle with the local spectators. We saw the soul of handball in Wales this May. This year the court there became the centre of village life. We saw the game as it was originally devised, a street game, a game of the people.”
Former Nelson handball secretary Howard Jones.
Lee Davies, Welsh handball champion 1990’s and World Champion 1997.
With thanks to Kevin Dicks whose book ‘Handball. The Story of Wales’ First National Sport’ will be published in 2016 by Y Llolfa.
James O Jenkins is a photographer working for a wide variety of clients and publications. He has exhibited widely and in 2012 he published his first book ‘United Kingdom’, a visual study of traditional annual UK customs. James is also co-founder of Portrait Salon, a Salon des Refusés for work rejected from the National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize. James is one of the founding members of A Fine Beginning.
A Line Runs Through Us uses the backdrop of the Valley transit system to explore the idea of disassociation and belonging within a small nation. The landscape of South Wales, is in part transformed into a fleeting metaphor of a once loved space, familiar and embedded in memory, the home takes on a transitory role.
Lad in Clydach, 2015
Before the Bwlch, 2015
Abandoned railway channels that once connected the thriving townships of the Rhondda are explored in search of the enduring communities and how they’ve evolved against a modern Wales. The backdrop to the story is the seemingly transient nature of youth, which in actuality has a common and typically recognisable aesthetic as the slow but shifting South Wales landscape.
Thinking of Moving, Rhondda, 2015
Gap in Grass
A Line Runs Through Us is an ongoing body of work exploring recollections of youth and place. While my photographs are all taken within the Rhondda Valley, they are more personal illustrations of memory and experience than an attempt to document the current people and landscape of a place.
Gateways Carpark, Tonypandy, 2015
Bike Boys, Clydach, 2011
My aim is to draw upon transitional echoes, those shifting memories that allow us to define who we are and where we have come from based upon a familiar setting and recollections from youth.
Two Girls in Trehafod Park, 2011
Gawain Barnard (b. Rhondda) completed an MFA in Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport in 2009. His Photographic work and research has mainly focused around the environment and people of his youth. Making quiet portraits of adolescence and precise observations of their surroundings Gawain brings new and fresh reflections of the once industrialised regions of South Wales. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is represented by Millennium Images. Gawain is one of the founding members of A Fine Beginning.
Photographer Brian David Stevens was part of our first group show Made in Wales in 2014, exhibiting work from his Brighter Later series. Brian currently has an exhibition entitled Heavenly Portraits at Rough Trade East in London until 30th September, which includes portraits of Welsh musicians.
The exhibition celebrates Heavenly Recordings and Rough Trade Shops 25th anniversary by exhibiting 54 photographic portraits of every artist signed to the label in this anniversary year. Accompanying the exhibition is a Heavenly 25 yearbook including all the portraits which is available from Rough Trade shops and the Heavenly website.
Gruff Rhys. Welsh musician, composer, producer, filmmaker and author.
Gwenno Saunders. Music producer, DJ, radio presenter and singer from Cardiff.
H. Hawkline. Welsh singer-songwriter.
Brian David Stevens is a photographer working in London. He was born in Cambridge of Welsh parents and brought up in Yorkshire as a cruel genetic experiment. He is currently finishing his first book, Brighter Later, a portrait of Britain looking out to sea. Brian has completed and exhibited a ten year project shooting war veterans entitled They that are Left, his most recent exhibition at the Heavenly Social was Notting Hill Sound Systems. His portrait of Wilko Johnson is in the national collection.
Heavenly Portraits is at Rough Trade East, Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL until 30th September.
‘The landscape of mid Wales, with its historical and cultural background, and the contemporary human relationship with it, has influenced my research and photographic exploration during the last two years of study on the BA (Hons) Documentary Photography course in Newport. For my final work I focused on the prevailing matriarchal spirit of Borth, an isolated coastal village.’
‘Inspired by the natural phenomena surrounding Borth, such as Cors Fochno, the only peat mire biosphere reserve in Wales, as well as and the ancient submerged forest which can be seen during low tides, I have followed a particular light source. The light of the blue hour was a crucial element for the aesthetics of this body of work. This particular light occurs just before sunrise or just after sunset. Parallel to this I have questioned my portrait making practice and I have gained an understanding about how the tiniests of facial movements can change the meaning of an image.’
From before the era of seafaring until the mid 20th century, Borth, a coastal village in mid Wales, was an isolated community living mainly from harvesting herring and cockles. Borth is built on an exposed shingle bank, flanked on one side by the Irish Sea with its submerged forest and on the other by the marshlands of Cors Fochno.
It was the women of Borth who walked the cliff path to Rhiw Fawr, through Clarach and over the hill to Aberystwyth to sell their catch. Named by the folk of Aberystwyth and the surrounding communities, the Borth women became known as The Black Crows. This was due to their close grouping, their feisty, independent characters and their fluttering black garments while descending from the hills towards the market town.
On ‘The Cliff of Vigil’ – the highest vantage point of Borth – the women often surveyed the wide open sea in the hope that their men would return. Almost all of the menfolk went to sea in order to nourish their families and yet a great number were consumed by the ocean. Many women were widowed – a fact that brought the womenfolk closer together and forced them to adapt to a more self-sustaining lifestyle from where the strong matriarchal spirit is still evident today.
Borth has changed from a seafaring village to a mecca for artistic self-sufficient women who share ecological and spiritual principles within the close knit community. Borth’s communal autonomy and also the strong bond between the old and young generations, which expands throughout the family circle, combine and represent an open minded Zeitgeist reflecting their spiritual and artistic freedom.
Many of the women of Borth express themselves through art, visualising their close relationship with the sea and the encircled landscape around Borth. Ranging from driftwood recycling to paintings, sculptures and music, the contemporary Black Crows distribute their art from the sea as did their valiant predecessors. They have decided to establish a lifestyle within the fierce and bleak coastal village, a location which has always been endangered by floods and storms. With the sea levels on the rise Borth’s future is in unknown hands.
The Black Crows of Borth is a photographic composition, with its prevailing roots within the maritime context. It explores the persisting landscape and draws a parallel between past and present to portray a new generation of strong women in the spirit of the matriarchal society of centuries ago. The contemporary Black Crows depend as much on the sea as on each other and their artistic expression as well as their social cohesion is of natural precedence.
Mira Andres is a Swiss photographer currently working and living in Wales and has graduated from the BA (Hons) Documentary Photography course at Newport.
The Black Crows of Borth has been selected as one of the winners of the Espy Photography Award and will be exhibited at the Elysium Gallery in Swansea opening at 7pm on October 21st 2016.